Starting this year, incoming freshmen in Virginia high schools will need to take at least one class online in order to graduate, as a result of a law passed by the General Assembly last spring.
Arlington Public Schools has been offering online classes for some time now — last year, APS offered 25 classes, mostly foreign languages like Arabic, Chinese and Japanese — but the portfolio of offerings will need to greatly expand to accommodate the new state law.
With less than a month to go until the school year, APS Director of Instructional and Innovative Techonologies Pat Teske said the decisions on which classes to offer online and how many are still being made.
“We’re looking at programs we want to offer to build a program,” Teske said. “We’re looking at it as more than just a graduation requirement.”
About 400 students took online classes last year, Teske said, many of whom took classes not in APS’ portfolio, but offered by Northern Virginia Community College and other institutions. The state Department of Education maintains a list of approved online educators, but before APS allows students to take any classes, school staff vets the educator for county standards.
While the rollout of the state policy takes place, some may be questioning whether forcing students to take an online class is a good idea. Brittany O’Grady, a recent graduate of Washington-Lee High School, took English 12 online as a way to get college credit simultaneously.
“I would have learned better in a classroom environment,” O’Grady said in an email. “I really enjoy making connections with people. The material becomes more engaging. Looking at a computer screen and learning the confusing material on my own was absolutely exhausting and not fun. I just wanted to get the class over with.”
Gov. Bob McDonnell argued when pushing for the law that it prepares high school students for the modern marketplace. Teske said so much business is done online — and so many colleges offer and/or require online classes — that the requirement is a logical one. The program will be called Virtual@APS, Teske said, and she and her staff have been working long hours trying to put it in place.
“The way of the business world today, you do online collaborations, online projects,” Teske said. “You have to be an effective online learner and collaborator… You can’t go to college today without taking many online classes. There are online degrees as well. We’re really giving our kids the skills they need to be productive beyond the 12th grade.”